Ask a Gallery Owner | Shipping Artwork from Overseas into the US

I received a note last month from a New Zealand artist who was in the process of making a sale to a client in Florida and had questions about the export/import of artwork. I know I have a good  number of international followers so I thought I would post this conversation thread both to share my thoughts on the matter and also to ask for any input readers have for dealing with international shipments.

I also hope to write a full post one day soon on how to ship art internationally based on my experience. Until then, let’s start a discussion on the topic.


Hi Jason,
I’ve enjoyed being a member of your mailing group for a number of years and I have a question that I know you’ll be able to help me with.
I’ve been approached by a potential customer from Florida Key USA who is interested in one of my sculptures.
I’m currently looking into shipping costs etc from my home in rural New Zealand.
A local gallery suggested using DHL and having spoken with them and I intend to include their insurance option in my shipping quote.
When shipping art work to America apart from filing the appropriate forms, insurance and secure packaging etc.
– Are there any duties to be paid at your end, that I should advise the customer?
– My sculptures are fragile so I’m anxious to hear how likely is it that the package might be opened by customs even with the appropriate paper work?
– If so under what type of circumstances?
– Are there any other hidden issues I need to be aware of?
– What payment option would you suggest (bank transfer, Paypal or any other suggestions)?
If you have time to advise me on any of this I would be most grateful.
Thanks for you help.
My Response:
Thanks for the email and questions. I have done some importing and it can be a bit of a challenge, though not insurmountable. There shouldn’t be any duties – Original art is exempt from duties. Customs is another story altogether. I’ve had some shipments checked, others not – there is absolutely no way to predict whether you’ll get an inspection. Pack your sculpture in a way that will be easy to unpack and repack. Don’t use excessive tape that will be unlikely to be retaped by customs. Make sure your client has a customs broker that can handle the import (although DHL or UPS may be able to clear it through their own customs brokers – ask them).
Funding will also depend on value. For smaller amounts PayPal is probably good – if it’s a significant sum a wire transfer may cost less in fees.
I hope that helps.
I would also advise you to be cautious of the buyer – there are a lot of scammers out there who try to prey on artist – read this post on my blog:
Hi Jason,
I really appreciate your response to my earlier questions, thank you so much.
It gives me great peace of mind to hear from someone I trust.
I had been wary of scams and that’s why I was asking about payment options. Your blog link is very useful, based on your observations my contact is probably legitimate. Unfortunately the freight cost may have put him off.

Share your Experience and Advice

Have you shipped artwork across international borders? Did you learn any lessons the hard way? What advice would you give to an artist shipping artwork internationally for the first time? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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